Sept. 12, 2013
Michigan State will induct five new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Sept. 12. In the fourth of a five-part series this week on msuspartans.com, online columnist Steve Grinczel profiles former basketball All-American Morris Peterson.
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
Morris Peterson never catches himself asking, "Did I really help Michigan State win a national championship 13 years ago, or was it all a dream?"
"I just call Mateen, and he reminds me, `Do you..., UN-DER-STAND..., we won a national championship, Pete, and we can go anywhere we want to?'" Peterson said. "Even if I don't talk to Andre Hutson for a while, when I do it feels like we just got off the floor an hour ago.
"We're all still connected and genuinely love each other, and that's what Spartan basketball is for me. We sacrificed as individuals for each other and the good of the team."
The NCAA title Peterson won with point guard Mateen Cleaves, who Peterson is joining in the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, and Hutson, the imposing junior power forward, is as real to him today as it was when he was living the moment on the RCA Dome court that Monday night in Indianapolis.
"I wish the whole team could get into the Hall of Fame because they helped get me to where I'm at today," Peterson said.
Not targeted for greatness when Spartans coach Tom Izzo recruited him out of Flint Northwestern High School, Peterson's journey to the Hall has been an unlikely one.
"Coming in, I wasn't the highest-recruited guy, but Coach Iz took a chance on me," he said. "When I arrived at Michigan State, there were definitely some things I needed to correct and get better at. I'm thankful that Coach Izzo and all the great assistant coaches were able to bring out the best in me, because sometimes it's hard to leave home and have to trust someone else.
"I think from Day One, my parents trusted Coach Iz. I'm so humbled to be mentioned with the all-time greats. Hopefully, I'll live to be 100 and be able to show my grandkids this, and they'll be able to say, `When my grandfather played at Michigan State, they won a national championship.'"
Peterson arrived on campus out-of-shape and with a suspect work-ethic. He left as one of the most accomplished and beloved figures in MSU history. But not before experiencing one of his first of several painful growing pains as a freshman in 1995-96.
"I missed a few classes and Coach brought me in in front of the team and told me if I missed another class, I wasn't going to (the Maui Invitational in) Hawaii," Peterson recalled. "So, I got my clothes out and went to bed early because I had a 30-minute walk across campus (for an 8 a.m. class). But, I woke up at 7:45 a.m. because I set my alarm clock for 7 p.m., and I overslept.
"So I go to my other classes, and then when I walked in to get ready for practice, Coach had another little meeting, and tells me, `Morris, you're not going to Hawaii.' I was devastated because here I am, a kid who's never been out of Flint and I was really looking forward to going. It was the hardest thing at the time."
Because the tournament was held over Thanksgiving break, Peterson watched the Spartans play games and relax on the beach on television.
"The campus was basically closed, but I didn't want to stay in the dorm because nobody else was there and the cafeterias weren't open," Peterson said. "So I stayed in the Breslin Center and slept in the lounge, ordered pizza every day and practiced on my own.
"That really changed my mindset. It was one the things that helped me realize I needed to be accountable. I think that tough love was what I needed."
Other defining moments followed, such as his remarkable conversion into a defensive stalwart as a redshirt sophomore in '97-98 when a broken right (non-shooting) wrist limited him offensively.
Whipped into shape by his junior season, Peterson cracked the starting lineup just four times in '98-99. Nevertheless, he helped MSU win a second straight Big Ten regular season championship and its first league tournament crown. The Spartans also reached their first of six Final Fours under Izzo with Peterson averaging 13.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while becoming the first so-called "sixth man" to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Firmly established as one of the nation's best players going into the 1999-2000 season, Peterson went on to lead the Spartans in scoring with 16.8 points per game, earn first-team All-America and All-Big Ten honors and Big Ten Player of the Year accolades.
With Peterson leading Michigan State's withering fast break, the Spartans repeated as league regular season and tournament champs and went on to defeat Florida for the national title. Peterson was named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional for the second straight year and earned a spot on the All-Final Four team by averaging 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds against Wisconsin in the national semifinal and the Gators.
"I remember almost everything about the championship run," Peterson said. "But what I remember most is thinking, I've got to take advantage of this so I can tell the guys who came after me to take advantage of the time you have now to give it your all because you don't want look back and say, `I wish I would have done this.'
"I didn't want to leave Michigan State with any regrets. I wanted to leave it all on the floor, and help my teammates get better any way I could. You have to sacrifice some of the things you think you want."
As the first-round pick of the Toronto Raptors, Peterson went on to play 11 NBA seasons, which also included stops in New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
Far from living in the past, Peterson is keeping his message of discipline and hard work relevant in the business world and as the parent of two sets of twins - 3-year-old Maliyah and Meilani and 5-month-old Aleena and Morris III - with his wife, Tara.
"That's been keeping me busy," said Peterson, who frequently shuttles between his home in Grand Blanc and business interests in Florida. "I'm approaching business with the same hard work, determination and goal-setting I learned from Coach Izzo and his assistant coaches.
"It's just so great to be living out your dream."
After retiring from the pros, Peterson started a transportation company in Miami. And in November, he'll launch a line of sports apparel line called World Artists Refuge, which integrates art with fashion and is geared toward children from preschool to high school.
"I want to help bring creativity back into the schools through art programs and teach kids the importance of being creative, because that's how I came into my own," Peterson said. "I like to draw and I always liked to wear nice clothes. A lot of kids are into fashion these days, so this is an avenue to reach them and help them do the right thing by setting goals for themselves."
It's not unlike the path Peterson followed as a Spartan.
"I have such an emotional connection to Michigan State," Peterson said. "I tell people MSU gave me the blueprint for life and what I needed - the keys to discipline, hard work, tough love when you need it and knowing that you have to earn it. You have to be patient and soak it all in and get it. It's the blueprint for what I'm doing now.
"And if I'm riding down the street in Florida and I see a Michigan State alum sticker, I'm blowing my horn and chasing them down just so I can say `Go Green' to them. That's the fun part for me."